I’ve started to write this several times, and I’ve always used too many words. Instead I’ve deleted the lot and put down two definite truths. Here they are.
As a sling library we first and foremost offer choice, and try to make carrying accessible to all.
One of the biggest barriers to doing this is gender stereotyping.
I could list how many times people pass over the carrier they want, that works for them, because of concerns about how it might look, how it might be perceived by others including their partners, because of its style, colour or print. I could, but the problem doesn’t lie with those endless debates on sling groups about whether you’d put a boy in a flowery carrier, it’s not about the patronising stereotypes of ‘husband-friendly’ carriers, or the damaging designation of buckle carriers as inherently male and flowing wraps and ring slings as inherently female. If you want to read more about the division this sexism causes, you might wander over to one of the excellent campaigns aimed at equality – ‘Let Toys be Toys – for girls and boys’ or ‘Pink Stinks’. They are full of information about how damaging gender stereotyping is to boys, girls, men and women alike. But when it comes to the carrying industry, all we really need to know is this:
Gender stereotyping in carriers stops many people or families from carrying at all.
Gender stereotyping restricts the range of carriers available to individuals and often leads to less than optimal choices.
It begins with the designation of carrying as a female practice, the carrier industry as a female space. I very rarely write a blog piece directed at the carrying industry itself, but this is one area in which the industry as a whole can make a huge difference. It’s time to cast a gender-critical eye over the industry and speak honestly about what we see. How inclusive are we? It is not restricted to gender, of course, but that is what I want to speak about today. And this is what I want to say.
If your website refers to ‘mothers’ or ‘mothering’ and carrying as a tool for motherhood, without equal reference to fathers and any other extended family or caregiver who might be using a carrier, you are limiting your market.
If you use ‘ladies’, ‘mummies’ ‘mums’ or ‘mamas’ as a collective term for your attendees, or as a term of address for your audience, you are not being inclusive.
If your carrier is size limited, and you use dress size, rather than body measurements, you are excluding men’s sizes and suggesting they are not your target market.
If your marketing includes only pictures of women using the carrier, or primarily women using the carrier, you are contributing to the idea of carrying as a female only practice.
If your marketing includes the idea that your carrier is ‘aimed at men’, ‘daddy-friendly’ or equivalent, you are being sexist in the way you portray your product.
If you categorise carriers by type, print or colour based on their blanket appeal to gender stereotypes, you are perpetuating the stereotype.
If you make assumptions about the types of carriers adults will want to see or use based on their gender, rather than their build, body type or stated preference, you are allowing gender stereotypes to unfairly influence your recommendations.
If, in relationships with families, you as habit speak firstly to one gender, or however subtly treat them as decision maker purely due to gender, you are influencing the gender dynamic negatively.
The designation of carriers as male or female prevents people, often men, from using them in the first place. From a carrier retail industry perspective, that is less sales, less customer satisfaction, more returns, greater aftercare and brand negativity. From a sling library industry perspective, it means times after time families missing out on carrying completely because it isn’t portrayed as being for them – or choosing the less optimal choice in terms of fit, suitability and budget because of a preconceived idea, borne out by the industry, that they are not making the ‘correct’ choice. From the perspective of supporting families to carry their children, no matter what that family dynamic, sexism is restricting choice, and it is restricting access, and it is exactly what any sling support industry professional should be trying to avoid.
Sexism in the carrier industry isn’t about not wanting to put your little girl in a space rocket print or worrying about handing down a pink wrap to a little brother. Those are symptoms of a much more worrying whole – families, or certain members of families, being excluded from carrying because it does not feel normal or accessible to them.
Families thrive on close relationships, in the early years founded on close physical contact, trust and proximity. There are many understandably female exclusive preserves in the pregnancy and nursery industry but it is very important, I believe, that the carrying industry is not one of them. If you are in the carrier industry, please be aware. Please strive to be part of the solution and make carrying accessible for everyone. If you are a consumer, and you see any of the above happening, or feel stereotyped or marginalised yourself, tell us. Tell the retailer. Tell the service provider. Speak.
Let carriers be carriers. For everyone.